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The Parish Clerk

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Project Gutenberg's The Parish Clerk (1907), by Peter Hampson Ditchfield This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net Title: The Parish Clerk (1907) Author: Peter Hampson Ditchfield Release Date: September 3, 2004 [EBook #13363] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE PARISH CLERK (1907) *** Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Charlie Kirschner and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. THE PARISH CLERK. By Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. THE PARISH CLERK BY P.H. DITCHFIELD M.A., F.S.A. WITH THIRTY-ONE ILLUSTRATIONS First Published in 1907 . CONTENTS CHAPTER I. OLD-TIME CHOIRS AND PARSONS II. THE ANTIQUITY AND CONTINUITY OF THE OFFICE OF CLERK III. THE MEDIÆVAL CLERK IV. HIS DUTIES OF READING AND SINGING V. THE CLERK IN LITERATURE VI. CLERKS TOO CLERICAL--SMUGGLING DAYS AND SMUGGLING WAYS VII. THE CLERK IN EPITAPH VIII. THE WORSHIPFUL COMPANY OF PARISH CLERKS IX. THE CLERKS OF LONDON: THEIR DUTIES AND PRIVILEGES X. CLERKENWELL AND CLERKS' PLAYS XI. THE CLERKS AND THE PARISH REGISTERS XII. THE CLERK AS A POET XIII. THE CLERK GIVING OUT NOTICES XIV. SLEEPY CHURCH AND SLEEPY CLERKS XV. THE CLERK IN ART XVI. WOMEN AS PARISH CLERKS XVII. SOME YORKSHIRE CLERKS XVIII. AN OLD CHESHIRE CLERK AND SOME OTHER WORTHIES PAGE 1 16 31 48 63 79 90 104 115 130 140 154 169 179 195 201 206 225 XIX. THE CLERK AND THE LAW XX. RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS AND THEIR WAYS XXI. CURIOUS STORIES XXII. LONGEVITY AND HEREDITY--THE DEACONCLERKS OF BARNSTAPLE XXIII. CONCLUSION INDEX 245 255 306 318 333 335 [pg vii] LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS The Parish Clerk. By Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. From the original in the National Gallery The Village Choir. By Thomas Webster From the original in the Victoria and Albert Museum The Mediæval Clerk: The Clerk In Procession From old engravings The Clerk Bearing Holy Water And Asperging The Cook, And Others From old engravings The Old Church-Houses At Hurst And Uffington, Berks By permission of Messrs. G.J. Palmer and Sons The Clerk And Priest Visiting The Sick And Administering The Last Sacrament By permission of the S.P.C.K. Old Beckenham Church. By David Cox From the drawing at the Tate Gallery Old Scarlett From "The Book of Days " By permission of Messrs. W. and R. Chambers, Ltd. Entrance To The Hall Of The Company Of Parish Clerks. The Master's Chair At The Parish Clerks' Hall Portrait Of William Roper, Son-In-Law And 104 106 98 60 46 28 8 Frontispiece 18 42 Biographer Of Sir Thomas More, Benefactor Of The Clerks' Company The Grant Of Arms To The Company Of Parish Clerks Stained Glass Window At The Hall Of The Parish Clerks' Company, Showing Portraits Of John Clarke And Stephen Penckhurst A Page Of The Bede Roll Of The Parish Clerks' Company. The Organ At The Parish Clerks' Hall A Page Of An Early Bill Of Mortality Preserved At The Hall Of The Parish Clerks' Company Interior Of The Hall Of The Parish Clerks' Company Portrait Of John Clarke, Parish Clerk Of The Church Of St. Michael, Cornhill Old Map Of Clerkenwell A Mystery Play At Chester From a print after a painting by T. Uwins The Descent Into Hell From William Hone's "Ancient Mysteries " The Sleeping Congregation. By W. Hogarth From an engraving at the British Museum The Clerk Attending The Priest At Holy Baptism By permission of the S.P.C.K. The Duties Of A Clerk At A Death And Funeral By permission of the S.P.C.K. The Vicar Of Wakefield. By W.P. Frith From a photograph by Messrs. W.A. Mansell and Co. Portrait Of Richard Hust, The Restorer Of The Clerks' Almshouses 199 198 196 136 182 122 126 128 130 132 112 110 111 114 121 200 The Church Of St. Margaret, Westminster After an engraving from a photograph by Messrs. W.A. Mansell and Co. William Hinton, A Wiltshire Worthy. Drawn by the Rev. Julian Charles Young By permission of Messrs. Macmillan and Co . Sunday Morning. By John Absolon From a photograph by Messrs. W.A. Mansell and Co. The Parish Clerk Of Quedgeley By permission of Miss Isabel Barnett James Carne, Parish Clerk Of St. Columb Minor, Cornwall, The Oldest Living Clerk From a photograph by Mr. R.P. Griffith, Newquay 210 239 270 280 320 [pg ix] PREFACE The race of parish clerks is gradually becoming extinct. Before the recollection of their quaint ways, their curious manners and customs, has quite passed away, it has been thought advisable to collect all that can be gathered together concerning them. Much light has in recent years been thrown upon the history of the office. The learned notes appended to Dr. Wickham Legg's edition of The Parish Clerk's Book , published by the Henry Bradshaw Society, Dr. Atchley's Parish Clerk and his Right to Read the Liturgical Epistle (Alcuin Club Tracts), and other works, give much information with regard to the antiquity of the office, and to the duties of the clerk of mediæval times; and from these books I have derived much information. By the kindness of many friends and of many correspondents who are personally unknown to me, I have been enabled to collect a large number of anecdotes, recollections, facts, and biographical sketches of many clerks in different parts of England, and I am greatly indebted to those who have so kindly supplied me with so much valuable information. Many of the writers are far advanced in years, when the labour of putting pen to paper is a sore burden. I am deeply grateful to them for the trouble which they kindly took in recording their recollections of the scenes of their youth. I have been much amused by the humorous stories of old clerkly ways, by the facetiæ which have been sent to me, and I have been much impressed by the records of faithful service and devotion to duty shown by many holders of the office who won the esteem and affectionate regard of both priest and people. It is impossible for me to publish the names of all those who have kindly written to me, but I wish especially to thank the Rev. Canon Venables, who first [pg x] suggested the idea of this work, and to whom it owes its conception and initiation [1]; to the Rev. B.D. Blyn-Stoyle, to Mr. F.W. Hackwood, the Rev. W.V. Vickers, the Rev. W. Selwyn, the Rev. E.H. L. Reeve, the Rev. W.H. Langhorne, Mr. E.J. Lupson, Mr. Charles Wise, and many others, who have taken a kindly interest in the writing of this book. I have also to express my thanks to the editors of the Treasury and of Pearson's Magazine for permission to reproduce portions of some of the articles which I contributed to their periodicals, to the editor of Chambers's Journal for the use of an article on some north-country clerics and their clerks by a writer whose name is unknown to me, and to the Rev. J. Gaskell Exton for sending to me an account of a Yorkshire clerk which, by the kindness of the editor of the Yorkshire Weekly Post , I am enabled to reproduce. [1] Since the above was written, and while this book has been passing through the press, the venerable clergyman, Canon Venables, has been called away from earth. A zealous parish priest, a voluminous writer, a true friend, he will be much missed by all who knew him. Some months ago he sent me some recollections of his early days, of the clerks he had known, and his reflections on his long ministry, and these have been recorded in this book, and will now have a pathetic interest for his many friends and for all who admired his noble, earnest, and strenuous life. [pg 1] THE PARISH CLERK CHAPTER I OLD-TIME CHOIRS AND PARSONS A remarkable feature in the conduct of our modern ecclesiastical services is the disappearance and painless extinction of the old parish clerk who figured so prominently in the old-fashioned ritual dear to the hearts of our forefathers. The Oxford Movement has much to answer for! People who have scarcely passed the rubicon of middle life can recall the curious scene which greeted their eyes each Sunday morning when life was young, and perhaps retain a tenderness for old abuses, and, like George Eliot, have a lingering liking for nasal clerks and top-booted clerics, and sigh for the departed shades of vulgar errors. Then and now--the contrast is great. Then the hideous Georgian "threedecker" reared its monstrous form, blocking out the sight of the sanctuary; [pg 2] immense pews like cattle-pens filled the nave. The woodwork was high and panelled, sometimes richly carved, as at Whalley Church, Lancashire, where some pews have posts at the corners like an old-fashioned four-posted bed. Sometimes two feet above the top of the woodwork there were brass rods on which slender curtains ran, and were usually drawn during sermon time in order that the attention of the occupants of the pew might not be distracted from devout meditations on the preacher's discourse--or was it to woo slumber? A Berkshire dame rather admired these old-fashioned pews, wherein, as she naively expressed it, "a body might sleep comfortable without all the parish knowin' on it." It was of such pews that Swift wrote in his Baucis and Philemon: "A bedstead of the antique mode, Compact of timber many a load, Such as our ancestors did use Was metamorphosed into pews; Which still their ancient nature keep By lodging folks disposed to sleep." The squire's pew was a wondrous structure, with its own special fire-place, the fire in which the old gentleman used to poke vigorously when the parson was too long in preaching. It was amply furnished, this squire's pew, with armchairs and comfortable seats and stools and books. Such a pew all furnished and adorned did a worthy clerk point out to the witty Bishop of Oxford, Bishop Wilberforce, with much pride and satisfaction. "If there be ought your lordship can mention to mak' it better, I'm sure Squire will no mind gettin' on it." The bishop, with a merry twinkle in his eye, turned round to the vicar, who was standing near, and maliciously whispered: "A card table!" Such comfortable squires' pews still exist in some churches, but "restoration" has paid scanty regard to old-fashioned notions and ideas, and the squire and his family usually sit nowadays on benches similar to those used by the rest of the congregation. [pg 3] Then the choir sat in the west gallery and made strange noises and sang curious tunes, the echoes of which we shall try to catch. No organ then pealed forth its reverent tones and awaked the church with dulcet harmonies: a pitch-pipe often the sole instrument. And then--what terrible hymns were sung! Well did Campbell say of Sternhold and Hopkins, the co-translators of the Psalms of David into English metre, "mistaking vulgarity for simplicity, they turned into bathos what they found sublime." And Tate and Brady's version, the "Dry Psalter" of "Samuel Oxon's" witticism, was little better. Think of the poetical beauties of the following lines, sung with vigour by a baldheaded clerk: "My hairs are numerous, but few Compared to th' enemies that me pursue." It was of such a clerk and of such psalmody that John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, in the seventeenth century wrote his celebrated epigram: "Sternhold and Hopkins had great qualms When they translated David's Psalms, To make the heart more glad; But had it been poor David's fate To hear thee sing and them translate, By Jove, 'twould have drove him mad." When the time for singing the metrical Psalm arrived, the clerk gave out the number in stentorian tones, using the usual formula, "Let us sing to the praise and glory of God the one hundred and fourth Psalm, first, second, seving (seven), and eleving verses with the Doxology." Then, pulling out his pitchpipe from the dusty cushions of his seat, he would strut pompously down the church, ascend the stairs leading to the west gallery, blow his pipe, and give the basses, tenors, and soprano voices their notes, which they hung on to in a low tone until the clerk returned to his place in the lowest tier of the "threedecker" and started the choir-folk vigorously. Those Doxologies at the end! What a trouble they were! You could find them if you knew where to look for them at the end of the Prayer Book after Tate and Brady's metrical renderings of the Psalms of David. There they were, but the right one was hard to find. Some had two syllables too much to suit the tune, and some had two syllables too little. But it did not matter very greatly, and we were accustomed to add a word here, or leave out one there; it was all in a day's work, and we went home with the comfortable reflection that we had done our best. But a pitch-pipe was not usually the sole instrument. Many village churches had their band, composed of fiddles, flutes, clarionets, and sometimes bassoons and a drum. "Let's go and hear the baboons," said a clerk mentioned by the Rev. John Eagles in his Essays. In order to preserve strict historical accuracy, I may add that this invitation was recorded in the year 1837, and therefore could have no reference to evolutionary theories and the Descent of Man. This clerk, who invariably read "Cheberims and Sepherims," and was always "a lion to my mother's children," looking not unlike one with his shaggy hair and beard, was not inviting a neighbour to a Sunday afternoon at the Zoo, but only to hear the bassoons. When the clerk gave out the hymn or Psalm, or on rare occasions the anthem, there was a strange sound of tuning up the instruments, and then the instruments wailed forth discordant melody. The clerk conducted the choir, composed of village lads and maidens, with a few stalwart basses and tenors. It was often a curious performance. Everybody sang as loud as he could bawl; cheeks and elbows were at their utmost efforts, the bassoon vying with the clarionet, the goose-stop of the clarionet with the bassoon--it was Babel with the addition of the beasts. And they were all so proud of their performance. It was the only part of the service during which no one could sleep, said one of them with pride--and he was right. No one could sleep through the terrible din. They were the most important officials in the church, for did not the Psalms make it clear, "The singers go before, and the minstrels" (which they understood to mean ministers) "follow after"? And then-those anthems! They were terrible inflictions. Every bumpkin had his favourite solo, and oh! the murder, the profanation! "Some put their trust in [pg 4] [pg 5] charrots and some in 'orses," but they didn't "quite pat off the stephany," as one of the singers remarked, meaning symphony. It was all very strange and curious. Then followed the era of barrel-organs, the clerk's duty being to turn the handle and start the singing. He was the only person who understood its mechanism and how to change the barrels. Sometimes accidents happened, as at Aston Church, Yorkshire, some time in the thirties. One Sunday morning during the singing of a hymn the music came to a sudden stop. There was a solemn pause, and then the clerk was seen to make his way to the front of the singing gallery, and was heard addressing the vicar in a loud tone, saying, "Please, sor, an-ell 'as coom off." The handle had come off the instrument. At another church, in Huntingdonshire, the organ was hidden from view by drawn curtains, behind which the clerk used to retire when he had given out the Psalm. On one occasion, however, no sound of music issued from behind the curtains; at last, after a solemn pause, the clerk's quizzical face appeared, and his harsh voice shouted out, "Dang it, she 'on't speak!" The "grinstun organ," as David Diggs, the hero of Hewett's Parish Clerk calls it, was not always to be depended on. Every one knows the Lancashire dialect story of the "Barrel Organ" which refused to stop, and had to be carried out of church and sat upon, and yet still continued to pour forth its dirge-like melody. David Diggs may not have been a strictly historical character, but the sketch of him was doubtless founded upon fact, and the account of the introduction of the barrel-organ into the church of "Seatown" on the coast of Sussex is evidently drawn from life. A vestry meeting was held to consider about having a quire in church, and buying a barrel-organ with half a dozen simple Psalm tunes upon it, which Davy was to turn while the parson put his gown on, and the children taught to sing to. The clerk was ordered to write to the squire and ask him for a liberal subscription. This was his letter: "Mr Squir, sur, "Me & Farmer Field & the rest of the genelmen In vestri sembled Thinks the parson want parish Relif in shape of A Grindstun orgin betwin Survisses--i am to grind him & the sundy skool kildren is to sing to him wile he Gos out of is sete. "We liv It to yuresef wart to giv as we dont wont to limit yur malevolens "Your obedunt servunt "DAVY DIGGS." [pg 7] [pg 6] Of course this worthy scribe taught the children in the school, though writing was happily considered a superfluous accomplishment. He taught little beyond the Church Catechism and the Psalms, which he knew from frequent repetition, though he often wanted to imbue the infant minds entrusted to his charge with the Christening, Marriage, and Burial Services, and the Churching of Women, because he "know'd um by heart himself." The barrel-organ was scarcely a great improvement upon the "cornet, flute, sackbut, psaltery"--I mean the violins, 'cellos, clarionets, and bassoons which it supplanted. The music of the village musicians in the west gallery was certainly not of the highest order. The instruments were often out of tune, and the fiddle-player and the flutist were often at logger-heads; but it was a sad pity when their labours were brought to an end, and the mechanical organ took their place. The very fact that all these players took a keen interest in the conduct of Divine service was in itself an advantage. The barrel-organ killed the old musical life of the village. England was once the most musical nation in Europe. Puritanism tried to kill music. Organs were broken everywhere in the cathedrals and colleges, choirs dispersed and musical publications ceased. The professional players on violins, lutes, and flutes who had performed in the theatres or at Court wandered away into the villages, taught the rustics how to play on their beloved instruments in the taverns and ale-houses, and bequeathed their fiddles and clarionets to their rustic friends. Thus the rural orchestra had its birth, and right heartily did they perform not only in church, but at village feasts and harvest homes, wakes and weddings. The parish clerk was usually their leader, and was a welcome visitor in farm or cottage or at the manor when he conducted his companions to sing the Christmas carols. The barrel-organ sealed the fate of the village orchestra. The old fiddles were wanted no more, and were hung up in the cottages as relics of the "good old times." For a time the clerk preserved his dignity and continued to take his part in the music, turning the handle of the organ. Then the harmonium came, played by the school-mistress or some other village performer. No wonder the clerk was indignant. His musical autocracy had been overthrown. At one church--Swanscombe, Kent--when, in 1854, the change had taken place, and a kind lady, Miss F----, had consented to play the new harmonium, the clerk, village cobbler and leader of parish orchestra, gave out the hymn in his accustomed fashion, and then, with consummate scorn, bellowed out, "Now, then, Miss F----, strike up!" It would have been a far wiser policy to have reformed the old village orchestra, to have taught the rustic musicians to play better, than to have silenced them for ever and substituted the "grinstun" instrument. [pg 8]
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